‘Are your kids ready for school?’ and ‘Are you ready for your kids to go back to school?’ had been asked in recent conversations with adults, signaling – along with cooler temperatures and the occasional sighting of a yellow leaf – that fall was upon us.
The sixty-six days of summer break had somehow evaporated and yesterday we found ourselves at the end.
The fact is, I wasn’t really ready for school to start and all that goes with it. We’d only had about three weeks at home and the boys had somehow fallen into a rhythm of interacting without continuous fighting. As far as I was concerned we could remain like that indefinitely. Though at some point it would become odd – this woman at home with her three grown children playing Lego, reading library books and earning computer time by playing outside.
But then it was August 31st and there was so much fighting and general unhappiness that I concluded some time apart would be good. For all of us.
Yesterday, really today, marked the end of an era – of seven years spent almost solely in the company of my children. ‘Are YOU ready for tomorrow,’ a friend had asked, knowing that I too was reaching a milestone of sorts. I thought for a second about this day I’ve been thinking about ever since Percy was born. And the subsequent countdown at the start of every school year that had defined my life up to this point: six more years until all the boys are in school full-time, five more years, four, three, two, one and then…it was the day before all the boys would be in school full-time.
‘I think so,’ I replied, ‘I’ve been thinking about this day for such a long time.’ Not in a desperate sense, necessarily, but in a factual, call-to-awareness sort of way. To remember where I am and where I’m going. A kind of antidote to that cliched photo-of-kids caption: ‘how did they get so big’ or ‘when did they get so big’. Because it didn’t happen overnight, these kids sprouting from blobby toddlers to boys in big clothes making weird faces in photos. Even if it seems like a blur of continuous motion in my mind.
For what did it mean to be ready? Was I going to cling to Percy’s arm, refusing to be separated from him, and the principal would be summoned to physically remove me from school property? Was I going to sit at home sobbing because I was all alone? Did I have paid work lined up? Did I have a plan for organizing the 48,000 photos on my computer hard drive?
Did I realize that my three boys would be at school all day? Was I interested in seeing what I might accomplish with six child-free hours* each day?
So yesterday was the last day….of summer togetherness, of life….before all the boys were in school full-time.
I wanted it to be special and memorable in a super enjoyable way and, like so many highly anticipated occasions it was filled with tension and bickering instead. Which is perhaps memorable in its own way, but not the stuff of scrapbooks and slide shows.
I took them to a couple of playgrounds, once it became clear that remaining at home would likely result in blood being shed. And then we stopped for drinks at Starbucks where I sat poised with pen and paper, like an overeager interviewer ready to record whatever bits of their self they were willing to divulge.
‘What are you excited about for this year?’
‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘What’s your favorite color?’ I finally asked, just to round out my series of lame and cliche questions.
Who in the history of the world has named white as their favorite color?
We returned home and retreated to our respective corners – basement, living room, kitchen, bedroom – until dinner time. And even then I still had to mediate a bitter brotherly, vaguely Clintonesque, battle over ownership of a Lego figure and the statute of limitations surrounding ‘playing with a toy.’
Does it mean using the toy at the particular moment someone else wants it? Does it encompass the preceding twenty four hours before someone expresses an interest in using it? What if the owner intends to use the toy in the very near future at the time someone else wants to use it?
Despite the tension surrounding the start of school, there is also the palpable excitement of new, yet familiar, beginnings which I find endearing. It is, without a doubt, the most efficient and well organized day of our entire year.
Last night, the boys fell asleep soon after their baths. The professor made lunches while I readied backpacks and water bottles and set the table for breakfast. This morning we were all up at 6:45. There were fresh blueberry pancakes (and coffee) on the table before 7:15. The professor walked the Gort to the bus stop. And we walked the younger boys to school, arriving fifteen minutes before the bell rang. If only we could be this family more than once a year.
Only six more years for all the boys to be in school.
September 2015: Grade 1, 6 and 3.
Just to prove that, forty minutes later, the Hen did go to school with a clean face
*Fridays, professional development days, holidays and weekends not included. And sick days, I forgot about sick days.